Will the Real Russian Foreign Policy Please Stand Up?

Uncle Volodya says, "Recession is when your neighbour loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours"

I admit it: I’m weak. I looked around a little for something to write about, went to The Power Vertical – hey! Robert Coalson appears no longer to be part of that cooperation. Yeah, I’m sure I could have found plenty of Russophobic material at RFE/RL or Open Democracy, but I didn’t look. You know where I went. Yes, that’s right; La Russophobe. Hey, it’s Wednesday, that must mean there’s something crazy cookin’ up at La Russophobe. Sure enough, there is. An embarrassment of riches, in fact.

The latest exercise in wishful thinking is entitled, “The Collapse of Russian Foreign Policy”. The factors that allegedly caused Russia’s foreign policy to collapse are (1) a new low in relations with Georgia, (2) the spat with Japan over the Kurils, (3) Iran’s threat to sue Russia over the cancellation of Iran’s missile buy, and (4) the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. This series of body blows, we’re told, has Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy “lying in smoldering ruins”.

This is not La Russophobe. In fact, if rumors are true it would take a truck with a straitjacket in it all day to drive around her.

Jesus, what a nut. Somebody get a straitjacket. Is anything like that happening? No, of course not. Let’s take a look.

First, the “Clan of Russian spies discovered by security forces in Tbilisi”. If you follow the link, you’ll note thirteen people were arrested on espionage charges. Four are Russian. What’s not mentioned there is that the remainder are Georgians, including six serving Army pilots. If four Russians are “a clan”, what does nine Georgians make up? A society? Of the Russians arrested, only one is in any way associated with the military. The remainder are businessmen. Sound familiar? The “elite spy ring” discovered in the United States earlier this year was portrayed by the New York Times as having more in common with lobbyists than spies.

How did Georgia discover this spy ring?  Why, by making use of a Georgian double agent. Apparently, it’s all right for Georgia to have spies – it’s only reprehensible when other nations do it. According to this example, traitorous pilots transmitted a message whenever Georgian helicopters took off…but it still took 4 years to catch them, during which a war with Russia ensued. In this, too, we see a similarity with the breakup of the Russian “spy ring” in the United States – the FBI claimed to have known of the spies’ presence for several years. Some might speculate the arrrest was delayed until a politically expedient moment. Some might say this about the Georgian arrests, too.

Speaking of the war with Russia, I’ve had a change of heart about that. Previously I said I was tired of suggestions that Russia had invaded Georgia, and set off the whole incident. Well, never mind that. The more you mention it, the more opportunities I have to refute it, so bring it. For instance, I refer you to this statement; “Not a single significant country stepped forward to side with Russia during [the 2008] conflict while Germany’s Chancellor immediately flew to Georgia to stand at the side of the tiny country’s beseiged leader”. Well, yes, Chancellor Merkel did do that, if by “immediately” you meant “right after meeting with President Medvedev first“. Yes, that’s right. Before rushing to the side of Georgia’s “beseiged leader”, Chancellor Merkel met with President Medvedev in Sochi – after the peace treaty had already been signed, following an agreement brokered by French President Sarkozy – to discuss the Georgia/Russia conflict, as well as participating in an exchange of ideas on Mr. Medvedev’s proposal for a common security treaty. And speaking of Germany, just a year later the Jamestown Foundation released a report that announced Medvedev and Merkel’s “far-reaching plans” for expansion of Russo-German economic relations. Get it? The Jamestown Foundation, whose word is holy writ at La Russophobe, is worried about Russia’s impact on Germany’s foreign policy, not the other way around. That marked Merkel’s third meeting with Medvedev in 2009: how many did she have with Saakashvili, again?

Anyway, enough about Georgia. Suffice it to say that “worsening relations” with a country whose leader is not even recognized by Russia hardly argues a collapse of Russia’s foreign policy. Let’s have a look at what’s going on between Russia and Japan.

No such discussion would be complete without reference to Anatoly Karlin’s excellent and timely piece on the subject, at Sublime Oblivion. This article and documents it references clearly explain that (1) Japan already renounced all legal claim to the Kuril Islands – in the Diet, no less – and it is a matter of public record. This latest effort sounds like a feeble “but we had our fingers crossed” argument, and is most unlikely to garner much international support. Except American, which I’ll touch on again in a moment. (2) Russia has already offered – twice – to return the two smaller islands, and Japan has blown them off. Obviously, it’s all or nothing.

Is this likely to turn into a major, foreign-policy-collapsing incident? Ha, ha. Sorry. Well, if that’s what you were thinking, it’s odd that Japan would argue that it’s no big deal. In fact, the Japanese Foreign Minister announced, “…our basic policy of conducting a peace treaty with Russia and strengthening economic relations once that problem is settled remains unchanged.” Gee, that’s likely to make Russia jump around in its haste to return the islands, isn’t it? Maybe it’s why Japan’s Economic Minister is “concerned that the Russia-Japan row could affect economic ties”, suggesting “Japan and Russia have deep ties when it comes to energy and natural resources development”. Care to hazard a guess which country in that arrangement has most of the energy and natural resources?

Japan’s trade with Russia is considerably lower in volume than Japan’s trade with China. But – whoops! – Japan is involved in a dispute with China over land, too. A dispute it doesn’t look like winning, which is why – according to political sources – Japan’s leader has to talk tough with Russia. He’s only been in the job a few months and already is getting rolled by China, so he has little choice. Russia, for its part, has absolutely no incentive to agree, since Russia holds all the aces.

Why would anyone outside Japan back such a loser play? Well, I can offer a possibility. The USA is under pressure to remove its Japanese military bases. It can’t afford to lose such a priceless foothold in the region. Okinawa, particularly, wants the U.S. out (and doesn’t much care for the Japanese, either, which Okinawans are not). Aside from considerable air assets, Japan is home to significant naval assets at Yokusuka and White Beach, Okinawa, including the USN’s forward-based Aircraft Carrier in the Pacific as well as her Task Group frigates and destroyers.

Hey: where would be a good place to base naval forces where there’s a very small indigenous population, and where those forces could interdict the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet access to the open ocean from the Sea of Okhotsk?

How about Kunashir? A population of less than 8000 on an island that’s nearly 1,500 square kilometers. Iturup or Shikotan might serve as well. It’d be expensive, but it would have strategic and demographic advantages that might make it worthwhile. Just a thought. But it’s certainly impossible under the current circumstances, because Japan doesn’t own them.

Now, where were we? Oh, yes; Iran. Let me make sure I have this straight – Russia cancels a deal with Iran that would see Iran supplied with an Air-Defense missile system with a range of 150 km, that would potentially be used to shoot down attacking American or Israeli aircraft (both have threatened to attack Iran if it does not abandon its nuclear program, which neither has offered proof is being used to make a weapon)…and this somehow reflects badly on Russia?? Both the USA and Israel had pressured Russia to cancel the deal, but now at least one American seems to feel the deal should have gone ahead, at risk of Russia’s foreign policy collapsing. Oh, and it was “that patsy” Obama who rammed the deal through that caused Russia to cancel the sale.

In fact, UN Security Council Resolution 1929 prohibits weapons sales to Iran that are not of a defensive nature. Russia is simply being a good world citizen in abiding by the resolution, and to successfully sue, Iran would need to argue persuasively that it needs a 150-km-range missile for self defense. Good luck with that, Iran.

The taking of the U.S. House of Representatives by the Republican party means government gridlock due to Republican obstruction will bar the passage of any meaningful legislation or initiatives between now and 2012. I’m afraid I don’t see how legislative paralysis in the USA spells doom for Russia’s foreign policy.

However, it might make you want to take a serious look at your own.

This entry was posted in Government, Japan, La Russophobe, Russia, Saakashvili, Spies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

79 Responses to Will the Real Russian Foreign Policy Please Stand Up?

  1. AJ says:

    Russia looks weak because they let US/Israel scare them from fulfilling the Iran deal.

    • Misha says:

      Within reason, Russia has attempted the not so easy task of simultaneously having good relations with Iran, the US and Israel.

      • mraz says:

        We are led to believe Iran is the worst theocratic dictatorship in the world because they plan to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Not a peep from the same groups about Asia Bibi, who has been imprisoned for over a year and sentenced to death in Pakistan for “insulting Islam” (actually she is being killed because she is a Christian.)

        • Misha says:

          The Muslim extremist activity in Afghanistan and the former USSR don’t appear to be Iranian connected.

          Instead such manner comes from sources based in some Arab countries and Turkey.

          For a period, Iran, Croatia and the West cooperated in the propping of the Bosnian Muslim fundamentalist Alija Izetbegovic. Iranian arms to Izetbegovic’s forces were sent via Croatia, with the Croats skimming some of the arms. As part of this arrangement, the Croats were probably informed of an unofficial Western backing of the (later on) Croat ethnic cleansing of 150,000 ethnic Serbs in Krajina.

          Fast forward to the present, Bosnia’s Croat and Serb leaders recently expressed concern over the domineering attempts of the Bosnian Muslim nationalists.

          On another former Yugoslav matter concerning Iran, like most predominatyely Muslim coluntries, Iran doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence.

          Note how some Western neolibs and neocons see going against the Serbs as a way of winning over the so-called “Muslim street.” Like other neocon and neolib foreign policy drives, this one has limited success.

          • Giuseppe Flavio says:

            To my knowledge, most Muslim extremism is Wahhabi-based. Wahhabism considers Shia Muslims as heretics that deserve punishment, so no surprise that Iran has few connections with extremism in predominantly Sunni Muslim areas.

        • marknesop says:

          I hadn’t heard that – thanks for the tip, I’ll look it up!

    • Leos Tomicek says:

      You honestly think Russians gained nothing from cancelling deals with Iran?

  2. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Hello Mark,
    besides Germany, Italy was also closer to Russia than to Georgia in 2008. Berlusconi was quite vocal in supporting the Russian position. He said that at a summit where someone qualified the Russian intervention as “excessive”, he provocatively asked what would have been the “appropriate” reaction and left people mum. Now, Berlusconi’s words must be taken with a truckload of salt, nevertheless he supported “his friend Putin” with his theatrical style.
    Re. Iran, resolution 1929 doesn’t ban surface to air missiles. As reported by a member of the ACIG forum, the relevant text is:
    8. Decides that all States shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to Iran, from or through their territories or by their nationals or individuals subject to their jurisdiction, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms…
    The “United Nations Register of Conventional Arms” states that:
    VII. Missiles and missile launchers
    Guided or unguided rockets, ballistic or cruise missiles capable of delivering a warhead or weapon of destruction to a range of at least 25 kilometres, and means designed or modified specifically for launching such missiles or rockets, if not covered by categories I through VI. For the purpose of the Register, this category:
    (a) Also includes remotely piloted vehicles with the characteristics for missiles as defined above;
    (b) Does not include ground-to-air missiles.

    So, Russia decided to apply harsher sanctions on Iran than those enforced by the UN resolution. This doesn’t necessarily imply that Iran will be able to successfully sue Russia about the S-300 contract. One needs to know the details of the contract and the laws governing these kind of contracts to estimate the probability of success for Iran in a trial, but these are beyond my knowledge. Besides, I suspect that if the Republicans derail the US-Russia reset, the S-300 will be shown in some parade in Tehran as a consequence.
    Finally, I find your points about Okinawa and Kurils very interesting. One more reason for Russia not to give up these Islands.

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks, Giuseppe; that’s interesting. I can’t think why they wrote it the way they did – surface-to-air missiles generally are defensive in nature, but it’s hard to substantiate a 150 km range being a self-defense weapon only. For whatever reason, Israel and the USA plainly didn’t like those weapons. They may not have much to say about it, as the Arab News suggests Iran already has 4 systems, 2 of which it obtained from Belarus. That may or may not be true, but in my estimation what potential attackers fear is having to fly through a cloud of domestically-produced variants. Iran has proved itself perfectly capable of reverse-engineering existing systems, as they did with the awesome AIM-54 Phoenix, carried on the F-14 Tomcats. They certainly have the money. Some components may be hard to acquire under the embargo, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

      For me, though, the real lesson in that news item was Belarus opposition figure Stanislav Shushkevich’s assertion that “The deliveries of S-300s from Belarus to Iran would have been absolutely impossible without Russia’s knowledge and sanction.” That’s the sort of juicy sound-bite that western media loves. The lesson is that even when Russia tries to do the right thing, they’re damned no matter what they do. Medvedev might just as well have said, “Kiss my ass”, and gone ahead with the deal, because the Russian government will be the prime suspect in any case. Thanks for the reminder, Stas.

      The USA is the world’s biggest arms dealer, expanding its market share to 43% of all weapons sold to developing countries between 2006 and 2009 (page 27 of source document), while Russia’s share remained stable at 18%. Yet the USA still feels it can tell Russia who they should sell to, and who not. Finally, even when Russia goes along with it, it is vilified. There are no rewards, at least not for Russia, in playing the game according to someone else’s rules. Anatoly made this point also, in the Kurils-sovereignty issue.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        I agree, Iranian air defense is a big question mark for anyone considering an attack. There is a lot of misinformation about Iran military. On one hand, Iranians often boast about some breakthrough achievement, like the “new radar evading plane” which is actually an F-5 with double vertical tail, on the other hand often US and Israel media exaggerates the ballistic missile potential of Iran. But there is more than just some grain of truth in this propaganda. Iran mustered solid rocket technology, and reverse engineered Western, Russian and Chinese technology creating new weapons that are unique, unknown an tailored to the needs of its military.
        Re. the Russia-Belarus-Iran/Syria/(Fill any rouge country here) triangulation stories, that’s one of the conspiracy meme sold as “news” in Western media. The reality is that if Russia sells something to Syria/Iran/whatever she does so directly, the only exceptions are those weapons produced during Soviet time and mothballed in Russia. Sometimes these items are acquired by Belarus, upgraded and then sold to a third country. But most western journalists are too lazy to properly do their homework, otherwise, instead of writing about bogus S-300 sales they would write about the 33 Soviet-built MiG-23 (stored in Russia) sold to Syria in 2008 by Belarus.

        • marknesop says:

          At one time Russia used to build both domestic and “For Export” versions of most of its weapons systems and platforms. The export version would lack some of the capabilities – particularly in radar frequencies and suchlike – that the domestic vesions had, or if it was a patrol boat, say, it’d be equipped with an older missile system. They sold a lot of the old Osas, Nanuchkas and Tarantuls that way, and China’s entire submarine fleet was once Russian. They were old Romeos and a few Foxtrots, and when they started up the diesel you could hear it all over the harbour (Quing Dao in 1988, in my particular memory). I had nothing but respect for the courage of anyone who would deliberately submerge in one.

          That fleet bears no resemblance to what they could put to sea now.

          The first MiG-25 Foxbat ever shot down in combat was Syrian. When it was examined it was found to have radar modes that were never to be used in peacetime, so that they would be an unexpected capability in combat. A lot of Soviet gear was made that way.

  3. mraz says:

    The House has nothing to do with START. LR needs to brush up on his/her civics lessons STAT. Neocons like John Bolton and Heritage Foundation are throwing shit because they hate being wrong.

  4. Misha says:

    Concerning Russian foreign policy issues over the past year:

    – Russia has seen gains in Moldova and Ukraine.

    – Russo-Sino relations remain steady.

    – Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to use Russia as a conduit on the matter of Nagorno-Karabakh.

    – Russia’s relations with Germany, France and Italy don’t appear to have waned.

    – In comparison, the direction of Russian relations with the US and UK can be put in a “remains to be seen” category.

    – In the lead up to the row over Medvedev’s visit to the Kurile Islands, Japan had a spat with China. Has Japan won anything on either of these particulars? Has Russia taken much of a hit?

    • mccusa says:

      Misha, you missed the most important aspect:

      Russia is desintegrating slowly – this ugly process is unstoppable and irreversible; Russia lost Siberia, Central Asia, Baltic States, Turkey took off Russia from the list of military threat to Turkey, along with Armenia and Ukraine, Russian military is truly a laughing stock of the world [Kursk, Bulava; shall I go on?? And this pathetic attempt to play a global power by russia while the Russians a truly hungry, sick, drunk and on their knees….Russia is a sad farce…..

      • carpenter117 says:

        All your stupid rant is “a sad farce”. “Russia lost Siberia!” – OMFG! In what parallel universe do you live?

      • marknesop says:

        England lost its entire global empire, and has just imposed the most sweeping austerity measures in a century due to overspending – trying to act like a global power, if you will. Yet the English still think they are one. If England went bankrupt, Russia could buy it. You’re certainly entitled to your beliefs, which I’m sure would be welcome at La Russophobe.

      • Misha says:

        No area in Russia is presently seeking to leave it, while some areas outside Russia would like to join up with it.

        The Russian military needs to be revamped – something that’s openly discussed in Russia. Meantime, Russia’s armed forces got the job done in repelling the 2008 Georgian government strike on South Ossetia.

        Russo-Turkish relations have improved as Turkish-West relations have seen a bit of a decline.

      • Leos Tomicek says:

        Bulava just had two successful test and is on a right track. The Western and Israeli equipped Georgians ran for their lives before laughing stock of the World. I heard all it took was eavesdropping on their side. They heard the Chechen language used by Vostok battalion fighters and refused to fight the Mountain dwellers.

        If there were any problems between Turkey and Russia, Russia would be back on that list in a second. The problem is that Turkey has made great changes to its foreign policy and found out that it would be better to cooperate with the Russians.

        • marknesop says:

          How many times did the U.S. Missile Defense System fail tests, or have the test conditions fudged so that it could appear to be a success? The SM2 is probably the best anti-air missile on the market today, and the seaborne system with the AEGIS radar has had notable success, but the landbased system has failed repeatedly. Many of the Bulava’s failures have been traced to manufacturing defects.

          How about Ford Aerospace’s Sergeant York Mobile Gun System? The results were so horrible the Defense Secretary canceled the entire project before even one was sold – although the Pentagon had already sunk $1.8 Billion into it, plus another $54 Million for tests that showed just what a polished turd it was. I’d heard that the contractor had rigged the targets to blow up by remote control in initial tests, but I couldn’t find any substantiation for that.

          • Yalensis says:

            Mark, you make good point about Bulava. I have been very worried about this system and think maybe manufacturer is fudging the tests to conceal defects. Probably better for Russian government to scrap it and start over again, rather than throwing good money after bad. I understand that you are a weapons specialist yourself; do you have any opinion about this particular type of system?

            • marknesop says:

              The manufacturer has nothing or very little to do with the tests. That’s all the military and project technicians. Russia doesn’t do it – or to a lesser extent – the way the west does, where privately-owned companies pitch their product to government buyers. There’s no denying there’s lots of corruption in Russia, but in this field there’s probably less than in the west, where the defense industry is rotten with bribes and graft. The manufacturer associated with Bulava cut some corners to try and squeeze a little more profit out of the deal, apparently, and the last test failed because of a defective jet nozzle. But failure is somewhat expected in trials of a new system, it’s rare that it performs exactly as envisioned the first time.

              The navy is committed to the Bulava for its BORYY class submarines, and rejected suggestions that it put more money into re-engineering an existing design.

      • cartman says:

        Where did Siberia go? I just checked Google maps, but maybe I should update y/n?

  5. AJ says:

    yes, but relations with its neighbor Belarus have severely deteriorated, squashing many hopes about reunification. Also, Russia is scared of China, thats why Putin gave several square miles of disputed land to China.

    • Misha says:

      Is Belarus on the verge of moving West?

      China and Russia have signed a border agreement acknowledging their borders. Of course that signing doesn’t guarantee a long lasting peace. At the same time, the agreement is indicative of relatively good relations for the moment – as opposed to a situation of open hostility.

      In addition to some others, I find the idea of Russia being scared of China as a bit on the hype side. There’re several reasons for believing such. The MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) concept works well in discouraging major powers to directly fight each other. In addition, China and Russia each have other existing and potential problems with other countries, where the MAD basis isn’t evident.

    • marknesop says:

      Anyone in their right mind would be wary of China: they always had enough soldiers that you’d run out of bullets before you shot them all, and their technology has grown by orders of magnitude in the last 15 years. The accuracy and PK values (Probability of Kill) for their domestically produced antiship missiles are as good or better than most western systems, where once they were as big as a railroad car, and about as accurate as one might be if it were thrown by catapult. Mr. Putin isn’t losing anything by giving up a little bit of land, which he has plenty of, and nobody knows better how to spin it as a positive to Russians (which it essentially is). Japan, on the other hand, is land-poor and made a big mistake being pushy with their giant neighbour.

      The west can swagger and beat its chest all it likes about how it would handle China. It doesn’t share a border with them.

      • Misha says:

        Of possible interest if not already known:



        The last link concerns the issue of China as a miltary threat.

        If I’m not mistaken, Shambaugh is fluent in Chinese (specifically, China’s most used language in China) and has spent a good deal of time personally reading Chinese military material.

        He seems to be of the general impression that Chinese military capabilities are limited. A few years back, I recall him noting that the Chinese ability to copy the most advanced of weaponry isn’t on par with some its other copying abilities.

        • marknesop says:

          It’s certainly possible, although I’d impart a degree of wishful thinking to that line of conjecture. I did a tour of the WUXI (pronounced, Woo – Shee) in Shanghai in 98, and although she was a modern frigate at the time, there were many areas that needed improvement. Below-decks air conditioning was provided by upper-deck located commercial air conditioners (modern operations rooms demand chillers, as computers produce a tremendous amount of heat). Welding was sloppy, and some corner beads did not even fill the joints. Wiring for the missile launchers was partially unshielded, and the line loss must have been terrific. Warship construction since then has seen steady improvement; as I mentioned, later models of Chinese ship-killers have a PK of above 90 percent. If they can make a flatscreen TV that’s as good as anything available anywhere else (and they can), why wouldn’t they be able to design and build state-of-the-art military technology?

          They probably have a few command deficiencies, and rely less on individual initiative on the part of their junior non-commissioned ranks – but who cares about that when you have over 2 million active-service personnel, another million in reserve and 20 times as many reaching military age annually as Russia does?

          No way could Russia stop them without going nuclear, or without help. That argues cautious respect. It certainly doesn’t mean you can’t be neighbours: after all, could Canada stop the U.S. if they decided to take it? Ha, ha. Umm… no.

          • Misha says:

            “If they can make a flatscreen TV that’s as good as anything available anywhere else (and they can), why wouldn’t they be able to design and build state-of-the-art military technology?”


            Interesting point raised. For a moment, think of instances where a given country excels at something while being more problematical in other instances which appear somewhat related.

            With the Arab-Israeli dispute and some others in mind, the sheer numbers point can have limits.

            China and Russia peacefully coexisting makes sense for both. Both countries have other pressing matters, while benefitting from a peace time cooperation with each other.

            Brzezinski not too long ago said that he anticipated Russia moving closer towards the West out of a fear of China. I sense some misguided thinking. Russia wanting to be close to the West isn’t (by default) because it’s in a supposedly weakened state.

          • Yalensis says:

            @mark: “…after all, could Canada stop the U.S. if they decided to take it? Ha, ha. Umm… no.”

            If I remember my history books, last time U.S. invaded Canada was 1812, and Americans got their asses handed to them by Dudley Do-Right.

            • marknesop says:

              Canadians (except we were colonials then) also burned the White House (at the time), seized a couple of harbour towns in Maine and held them for about a year, keeping the harbour fees and duties. The money that was collected in that fashion built Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But the Americans were colonials as well, then, and the two were about evenly matched militarily. Not so today – the United States is the world’s biggest military power, while Canada’s military capability reached its zenith right around the close of WW II. We couldn’t even hope to slow them down today.

              But that’s another example of how things can change. Right up until about the time of McKenzie King, Canada looked like being the dominant North American power, with more industry and a faster-growing population. Then the momentum shifted in their favour, and they never looked back.

              But we’re still (a) bigger, and (b) your largest foreign energy supplier.

              • Misha says:

                Interesting how expectations change. At one time, Argentina was thought to have the potential of being second in the Western Hempishere to the US in socioeconomic/geopolitical clout.

                • Giuseppe Flavio says:

                  Do you mean the time when Menem and de la Rua served as Presidents, from the early ’90 to 2001? During those years Argentina was described as an economic miracle, and many Italians bought her state bonds, losing their money.

                • Misha says:

                  Some time prior Giuseppe.

  6. AJ says:

    @Misha- No, believe me, Belarus is far from moving west. Theyre basically becoming a Slavic North Korea. Hugo Chavez called it the “model socialist state” and said thats what he wants Venuezela to be like. Lukashenko has gone all KimJongil and anti-Russian. It seems like the Kremlin will try to influence internal Belarus politics to try to get a more pro-Russian government. Putin has actually stated in the past that he wants to straight up annex Belarus, and Lukashenko was outraged, LOL. Belarus is more pro-Soviet than any other FSU nation. They still celebrate the October revolution and have collective farms, and have patriotic Communist youth groups. Personally, Im hoping for a Belarus-Russia reunification, as it will only have a positive effect on both nations. As for China, yeah your right, maybe I overhyped the China threat a bit. Are you in Russia, Misha? It seems to me Russia is suffering an identity crisis. It doesnt know wether it is Western, European, uniquely Slavic, Eurasian,Eastern, or whatever. Your right, it seems strange to be friends with both Israel and Iran. Samuel Huntington has theorized that Japan, India, and Russia are all “Swing Civilizations”. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clash_of_Civilizations?wasRedirected=true

    • Misha says:

      I’ve familial roots as well as contacts in Belarus AJ. The state of Russo-Belarusian relations is an interesting study. For now, look for a continued testy relationship that falls short of a full or near breakdown

      A union state idea of two equals is impractical for Russia for as much the same reason that Serbia was willing to distance itself from Djukanovic’s regime in Montenegro.

      The term “Eurasia” and Russia’s two headed eagle concern another point you address. Among some others, I’m of the view that Russia is more European than Asian.

      On Israel and Iran and some other foreign policy issues, Russia is by no means monolithic. This article might be of interest:


    • carpenter117 says:

      AJ – you are hopeless, brainless teenager moron! Come here in Eastern Hemisphere, , live here for a while, and only then do such stupid claims.
      Also – what about the problem of Shamanism of the Far North?

  7. Yalensis says:

    @Mark, re Iran: One interesting tidbit: America’s client state Gruzia has been, in the past year or so, pursuing its own course on regional relations, in particular, improving relationship with Iran. The link below is to article detailing visits to Tehran of important Gruzian government officials, including Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, as well as journalists and trade officials. As well as Iran, Gruzia has been successfully improving relations with Turkey and Azerbaidjan. These countries are Gruzia’s neighbors as well as major regional players, and it totally makes sense for Gruzia to have good relations with all of them. The only strange thing about this is that Gruzia was vigorously pursuing Iranian policy and praising Ahmadinejad at the same time that Gruzia’s mentor, USA, was demonizing him as crazy monster. I am guessing, if McCain had been elected American prez, Gruzians would toe the line more to American whims, however detrimental to their own interests. But Gruzians don’t like Obama, don’t trust him, and now pursue their own interests in region. Well, good for them, I guess!

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, I’d read something on the subject of Saakashvili “taking advice from the Iranians”, as I recall the article put it. Saakasvili would fit perfectly in the U.S. Republican party: there’s an acronym attributed to them which goes IOKIYAR – It’s OK, If You’re A Republican. The conventional rules about dealing with the deeply demonic don’t apply.

    • Misha says:

      Remember GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova)? None of its members support Kosovo’s independence – which the US, UK, France, Germany and Turkey, among some others back.

      Going back to Molotov-Ribbentrop and before, countries can have interesting relationships. It has been said that post-Shahist Iran received (for awhile) military assistance from Israel in a move motivated by Israel seeking to limit Iraqi influence and a concern for Jews in Iran.

  8. Yalensis says:

    2 other points:
    1.) On the graphic – those are some good-looking Bellevue inmates. Who knew that bioplar babes could be so sexy?
    2.) On Kurils: Anatoly Karlin wins the “Nostradamus Junior” award for calling that one a couple of weeks ago on his blog. He predicted the Japanese would back off, and so they did; they weren’t really holding a good hand, and Medvedev called their bluff.

  9. AJ says:

    @Leos- no, Russia gained nothing.

    • Leos Tomicek says:

      Well, at the same time Russia agreed not to sell S300 to Iran, American companies agreed to the sale of technologies for Russia’s modernisation. I heard people personally involved in this make the connection between those two events. 😉

      • marknesop says:

        Very interesting, Leos, I didn’t know that. Say what you will about the Americans, when they make a deal they usually don’t expect cooperation for nothing, and usually honour their end of the bargain.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Besides the US, Israel is also very concerned about S-300 reaching Iran, so one should consider what Russia may have got from the Israelis for cancelling the deal. A couple of things come to my mind: UAV technology and the severance of military cooperation with Georgia.

        • marknesop says:

          I like the way you think, Giuseppe – are you sure you’re not with SISMI? Defense Industry Daily is on the same wavelength, even pointing out how useful high-tech UAV’s would be for monitoring those miles of pipeline that are the arteries to the Russian treasure chest. If you just reasoned that out without help, you’re good enough to work for these people. I don’t think they’ll get severance of military cooperation with Georgia, though. They might agree to it, but they’d never do it. You just don’t get a crazy egotist like Saakashvili every day, and both the Israelis and the Americans have too much fun using him as a blunt instrument against Russia to cut the legs from under him just yet. I’m afraid his own people are going to have to give him the heave-ho, because otherwise he’s staying put forever, and the poke-chest games will go on.

          • Yalensis says:

            Although…. In the last couple of days, some interesting remarks coming out of Sergei Lavrov, as Russians prepare to attend NATO summit in Lisbon next week. Looks like there might even be a secret deal regarding Gruzia. Not to get rid of Saakashvili, obviously. But maybe to sideline him and reassure Russia that Gruzia will NOT be joining NATO in foreseeable future. Just speculating, but it does look like events behind the scenes truly have shifted in a manner that is detrimental to Mr. Saakashvili’s ambitions.

          • Giuseppe Flavio says:

            Thanks for your kind words Mark, I’m not with SISMI, but if I were I won’t be allowed to say it. So you will remain in doubt 🙂
            I agree that “severance” is exaggerated, “scaling down” would be more realistic.
            I doubt that the Merkavas deal is for real. These tanks were designed with Israeli needs in mind and for the Middle East terrain, they were never exported. One of the problems of the Merkava is that it’s too heavy on the frontal part, so that its fore tends to sink on soft terrain. That’s not a problem on the hard and dry surfaces in ME, but it would be in Georgia, whose terrain looks quite soft.

            • Leos Tomicek says:

              Well Israel is apparently raving about this because Russia plans to sell S300 to Syria. The fact that Merkavas might not be useful in Georgia is another thing. Georgians might actually find out about it only once they use it.

              • Giuseppe Flavio says:

                The last Israeli raving is about the possible sale of Russian anti-ship P-800 missiles to Syria. But if you look at news about weapons transfer from Russia to Syria, you’ll see an impressive amount of “contracts” and related Israeli moaning: Su-27, MiG-29M, MiG-31, S-300, Iskander short-range ballistic missiles. None of them was actually carried out.
                IMO, the P-800 sale will meet the same fate.

                • marknesop says:

                  Basically, Israel has no problem at all accepting the latest western killing technology, but likes it when potential enemies are limited to stovepipe ballistic unguided rockets. Attempts to level the playing field are not appreciated.

                  The Israelis make nice stuff, and it’s usually very reliable as well as being high-tech and simple to use. I always thought the Merkava was an exception; it looks like the same guy designed it who built the MONITOR, back in the ironclad’s heyday. But it’s supposed to be a very good tank in the environment for which it’s designed.

                  Few have mastered control of the media like the Israelis, and a jamming barrage of squalling is de rigueur in the case of foreign weapons sales to Middle-Eastern countries that are not Israel. They can usually count on the western press to champion their cause, and even if it doesn’t work it is usually worth trying, since it costs nothing. They have a sweetheart deal with America like no other nation has, whereby the USA gives them taxpayer dollars in the form of generous foreign aid, and then accepts it back in payment for its latest helicopters, ESM equipment or what-have-you from Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics and other American defense giants. I suppose they reason that they can trust the Israelis, and supplying them with weapons keeps things from settling down in the Middle East while they’re not selling to someone who might turn on them. I guess the USS LIBERTY incident has been largely forgotten. But then, under certain circumstances, America is a forgiving country.

        • Leos Tomicek says:

          Israel will sell Merkavas to Georgia apparently, but there certainly was a short lull on Israeli part. Not that Russians do not possess the weapons needed to neutralise Merkavas, some years ago I heard Israelis were concerned about Russians selling some anti-tank shoulder fired think to Arab countries.


  10. Misha says:

    The success and failure of a nation’s foreign policy is relative to its abilities.

    In sports, the very talented/high priced team falling short of expectation can be considered a greater failure over a less talented/financially not as wealthy team, which finishes behind the former.

    All things considered, post-Soviet Russia arguably understands its limits better than how some others view themselves:


  11. grafomanka says:

    Of possible interest: allegedly Russia has sent an assassin to US to kill whoever betrayed Anna Chapman

    • marknesop says:

      Ha, ha!!!! The British have a taste for that sort of scandalmongering, and I must say it’s very comical! The FBI said flat-out that they had been watching these “agents” for years, more or less ever since they had entered the country – yet the “traitorous Colonel” is alleged to have “fled” only 3 days before Medvedev’s visit. And given that he has “fled”, is there any point in dispatching an assassin to America, where he presumably isn’t?

      Thanks for the best laugh I’ve had all day! I wouldn’t be surprised to find Anna Chapman at the bottom of it somewhere, or her publicist. She does love the limelight.

      • Misha says:

        As do some of the supposedly “serious” news orgs. out there.

      • Yalensis says:

        I read that the Russian traitor in question is alleged to be a certain Colonel Shcherbakov. I assume this Colonel has fled to the U.S. and will be living somewhere remote with a disguise and new identity? Re. Anna Chapman: come on, Mark, have a heart! She’s a lovely girl and good Russian patriot, she didn’t bring this on herself. If anything, she was the hero of the story. The moment she heard the gig was up, she did the correct thing, according to her spy training: she bought a disposable cellphone and immediately alerted her handler. By doing so, she bought the spy ring handler a couple of hours with which to flee and avoid detection by American FBI.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Just out of curiosity, is the “Russia has sent an assassin…” part in the cited Kommersant article or is it an addition of the Guardian? I’ve read about these revelation of a traitor on RIA Novosti in English, but there was no mention of a killer sent after the mole.

  12. Nils says:

    I read some stuff on Belarus in earlier remarks and I would like to comment on them. I am currently writing my thesis on the subject Belarus-Russian relations and I feel I need to do some explaining to prevent the “Putin is bullying small states” argument from arising here.

    First of all, I agree with the notion that Belarus is not a democracy and not exactly a beacon of human rights. That explains why Europe and America, after the rise of Lukashenko, have done as much possible to isolate him . Like with almost al Western policy issues towards the former Soviet-Union, it hasn’t turned out to be a success. Actually, I would argue that the isolation of Belarus by the Western powers is the main cause that Lukashenko turned to Moscow for help.

    And oh boy, did he receive help from them. I do not have the exact numbers here (sorry I am too lazy to look them up at this hour) we can safely say that Moscow has been subsidising not only the entire Belarus economy but the whole country. This came (and comes) in the form of lower prices for gas and the transit of oil. For the Belarus leadership, almost half of its budget comes from the oil transit. Russia exports 20 million tns of oil trough Belarus every year of which the country uses 6 million itself and it sends the rest to refineries where it is processed and send to Ukraine or other countries in Europe. Now.. because of the Customs Union between Belarus and Russia, Belarus pays only 1/3 of the usual export tax to Russia but charges Ukraine and Europe the full price for the remaining 14 tns, pocketing the difference.

    The customs union of the two countries is not only important factor to consider. There was a plan of uniting the two countries (kinda like the EU) by supranational means. From a Russian view (Yeltsin was still in power) it made sense because Lukashenko was seen as a popular politician in Russia because the Belarus society did not went through the horrors of the 90’s and Yeltsin was terrible unpopular in 1996. So he clearly thought that it would make Yeltsin more popular with the Russian people. As far as Lukashenko was concerned… I would say that he dreamed of becoming the president of both Russia and Belarus which did not happen partly because Putin and he cannot get along, partly because Lukashenko is not really keen on implementing all the (especially) economic parts of the poltical and economical union. For example, Russia and Belarus should have had a common currency by 2005 but, obviously, this did not happen. Because, as far as Moscow was concerned, only the Russian Central Bank should print the Ruble, whilst Lukashenko wanted the Belarus Central Bank to achieve an equal status in this. Other disagreements have included the selling of the Bieltransgaz to Gazprom and Lukashenko’s refusal to open op the Belarussian economy (Russian businessmen are eager to buy Belarussian companies).

    I guess that back in the 90’s when the reaprochement between Belarus and Russia took place some people thought that implementing this measures would not be easy. But, at that time, the measures agreed upon in the charters were far away. I do want to stress that the military aspect of these relations are very succesfull, especially for Russia. The 72.000 strong army of Belarus is arguably far more better prepared than the Russian army and the Russian army controls several important relays and installations like the Vileika communications centre for the Baltic Fleet and the radar station at Baranovichi. Nato is also a clear subject of the Belarussian Military Doctrin.

    So why the sudden “problems”. I guess that Moscow is annoyed by the fact that Lukashenko does not do what they agreed on so many years ago. As Putin has noticed: “The Belarussian economy is only 3% of Russia’s”. Other arguments which I found was the fact that Lukashenko does not recognise South-Ossetia and Abchazia and the fact that Minsk houses the former Kyrgyz president, Bakijev. I would not say that the last two are the main reasons though but are worth noting. Putin is a very popular leader by all accounts so he does not need Lukashenko’s “popularity” to boost his own. Ok I guess this post is getting a bit too long.

    Lastly, I am really interested to know what will happen when the Belarus people go and elect a new president. Lukashenko recently said that he was tired of politics (kinda like Putin) and the Belarussian opposition is very happy with the Russian Крестный батка documentaries which NTV aired 2 months ago. Question remains: does the Kremlin really wants another person as a president (thus risking a pro-Nato and Europe stance in Belarus) or are they just pressuring Lukashenko like they did at the previous elections? Time will tell.

    • Misha says:

      Just spoke with a friend who is from Belarus. He was there this past summer to visit his father.

      In real life situations, some folks have bickered with each other, while simultaneously maintaining close ties. This scenario seems to apply in relation to the Russian and Belarusian leaders.

      Another friend of mine said that during the so-called “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, there were some write ins for Lukashenko as Ukrainian president.

      Among segments of the Ukrainian and Russian populations, the situation in Belarus is seen as a relative success.

      It’s true that Russia contributes greatly to Belarus’ economy. At the same time, consider how significant aid can be given and squandered.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      If my memory serves me well, there should be an oil pipeline under construction in Russia that will redirect the flow of oil through Belarus to the Russian Baltic coast, where it’ll be loaded on tankers. This will halve Belarus revenues, according to your data, and will scale down her relevance.

      • Nils says:

        Indeed Giuseppe, you are completely right. It is part of a broader initiative of Moscow to circumvent unreliable post-Soviet states which are reluctant to pay the market price for gas and sometimes oil.

        The last battle involving oil was the taxation. In an attempt to broaden the oil sector and stimulate its development, the Russian government decided that oil products (instead of raw oil) are subject to a (far) lower tax than crude oil. So instead of shipping the crude oil off to Belarus for refinage there, Moscow decided that it would be far better to cut out the middleman to stimulate its own oil sector. Ofcourse, this did not make Lukashenko very happy, for reasons I explained earlier.

  13. Yalensis says:

    @Nils, thanks for all your research and a fascinating discussion of Russia-Belorussia relations. I’m sure your thesis will be well received by your professors. I hope Russia and Belorussia can work out this dispute; that would be in the interests of both peoples. Too bad it had to turn into a pissing contest between Putin and Lukashenko. It would be a catastrophe if NATO were to gain an advantage as a result of this spat.

    • russiawatching says:

      Interesting, although I already read it yesterday. It is the usual thing: nobody seems to have clue what is going to happen. For example, I stumbled upon this article in the Kyiv Post: http://www.kyivpost.com/news/russia/detail/89621/#ixzz151KE5uNshttp://bit.ly/bfh5M4 Rather strange I would say….

      And, whilst doing research in how Russia’s liberals are using the Kashin case to score political points, I read an article about the recent demonstrations against Serdyukov (minister of defence). He wants to reform the Russian armed forces but has encountered resistance from the airborne troops last week. Now it seems that Lukashenko is somehow involved in these demonstrations, in tandem with the Russian Communist Party.

      I started a blog on Russia as well btw: http://russiawatching.wordpress.com/

      I really need to develop better writers skills though and for now I have only been doing translations Russian-English which explains the, sometimes, strange structure of my topics (remember please that translation stuff from Russian is really hard). I plan to publish my findings on Lukashenko and the Russian army there somwhere this weekend.

      • Nils says:

        Note: Nils and Russiawatching are one and the same)).

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        That’s an interesting blog, it can give to non-Russian speaker (like me) an insight about Russian press. It would be useful to mention the source for each blog post that is a translation from the press.

      • marknesop says:

        I had a look at it, Nils; I like it! It could use a little polish, like you said, but the bones are certainly there, and it wouldn’t stand up without those. Interesting content, too!

      • Yalensis says:

        @Nils, I sense a big need for more Russian to English translation services, not just your blog, but maybe other blogs too. In my student past I was able to leverage my knowledge of Russian/French/English to earn some extra money in journalistic translation. So I know it is tedious, grueling work. I am offering, and maybe others too, if you wanted to farm out some of the work, you could set up a pool of volunteers, maybe each person could translate, say, one paragraph, and if you had 10 people doing the work, it would go faster. Then all you would need to do is a final edit and polish. All free of charge, of course, just to help each other and make Russia news more accessible to non-Russian speakers. What do you think of this idea?

        • russiawatching says:

          Thanks all. Yes Yalensis, an excellent idea. I am actually willing to completely reform my (our?) log on this idea. I like your idea of a “pool” as well. However the 2 people per alinea idea is not that practical. We should just have a maximum of two people per article who can make their own individual translation of an article and then polish the translation together…. People interested?

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  15. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    I can’t blame the Israelis for screaming out loud when they hear about arm procurements of Syria or Iran, warfare isn’t supposed to be a fair fight. But I have the impression that the screaming serves two other purposes as well:
    1) scare the Israeli public opinion;
    2) get more from the USA.
    Besides, it is also possible that Russia makes pressure on Israel by leaking news about a supposed arms transfer to Syria.
    Re. the P-800 sale, to me it seems strange that the Syrians are going to spend so much money on coastal defense, while they have more pressing defense need in other sectors.

    • marknesop says:

      A little bird told me that the C-802 (Chinese-made) antiship missile which almost sank the Israeli patrol craft Hanit off Lebanon in 2006 was launched from a makeshift setup, and target acquisition was carried out with an off-the-shelf Decca Navigator. We already talked about how much Chinese missile design has advanced (even though the 802 is fairly old, its PK is very high for its type), and this attack is said to have been timed to coincide with a speech by Nasrallah about “surprises” for Israel. This seems to bear that theory out (it’s just a one-liner in the final paragraph “Showdown In The Bay of Bengal”. Gorgeous photography on this site, by the way). Similarly, the PR value achieved by this strike – for Hezbollah – was far out of proportion to the value of the missile. We should remember that, sadly, 4 Israelis lost their lives. However, the lesson was clear – “We were under the impression that we were operating beyond the range of missiles”. Au contraire.

      If coastal missile systems, especially mobile ones whose location is never clear, can force Israel to move its patrol vessels further offshore where its ability to enforce blockades is restricted, other nations in the region will likely consider it money well spent.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Hello Mark,
        I’ve read that it is unlikely that the missile that hit the Israeli ship was a C-802, because there were too few damages. The C-802 has the same warhead weight of the Exocet (165 kg), and this latter missile has made much more damages on bigger ships like that British destroyer sank during the Falkland war and the US frigate hit by Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war. A Kowsar light missile seems to be the more likely candidate. But you know much more than me on this subject, so I’ll submit to your opinion on it.
        The Kowsar missile theory is the reason I think the P-800 deal is unlikely. Why buy an expensive missile with a 300 km range (which implies adequate reconnaissance and targeting assets) when you can force Israeli ships away from the coast with cheaper and possibly easier to operate and conceal Kowsars? The Syrians don’t have much money like the Saudis.

        • marknesop says:

          I’d read that, too, but the Kosar requires a bit more complex setup. Quite a few ships have been hit with Exocet and survived, although Hanit was fairly small. I don’t necessarily know more than you, because I wasn’t there, and explosives can do funny things. Get a look at the damage to the USS COLE in Yemen (the whiplash effect through the hull blew out transceivers in her SPY-1 antenna arrays all the way forward) and you’d swear she’d been hit by something the size of an SS-N-2 Styx, but it was just a boatload of explosive, not even a shaped charge.

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